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Cardiovascular Health and External Stressors

Don’t miss a beat when it comes to heart health and environmental factors

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Cardiovascular Health and External Stressors

When the topic of cardiovascular health comes up, many people are likely to pinpoint personal habits as the main contributing factor to a well-maintained circulatory system.

While the importance of self-care can’t be overstated, and the genetic link can’t be denied, environmental factors such as air pollution, pesticide exposure, and microplastics leached into our water systems have only recently been studied for their effects on cardiovascular health.

As climate change continues to negatively affect our environment, having the necessary knowledge to protect your cardiovascular health grows more imperative.

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Air pollution and heart health

Air pollution is more likely to have an adverse effect on the cardiovascular health of individuals who already have risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

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Ambient air pollution and fine particulates

Air pollution, particularly fine air particulates, is most concentrated in urban, lower income areas. Particle pollution is made up of solid and liquid matter and includes harmful chemicals such as sulphuric acid and ammonium sulphate, as well as soot and dust.

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Effects on coronary calcium buildup

Coronary calcification is the buildup of plaque in the arteries and is a precursor to atherosclerosis—the narrowing or hardening of the arteries. In a large study involving 6,795 participants over 10 years, exposure to increased concentrations of air pollution was found to speed up coronary artery calcium buildup.

Protect your heart from air pollution

The current consensus among researchers is that the degree of negative effects is dependent on duration and intensity of exposure.

  • Whether you’re concerned about particulates from wildfires or traffic-related pollution, check the Air Quality Health Index website for the air quality in your area.
  • Preventive measures could include face masks, such as surgical masks or N95s, which have been shown to protect against outdoor air pollution, while the use of air purifiers have been shown to be effective against indoor air pollution.

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Agricultural chemicals and heart health

The chemicals used in agricultural production—for both industrial and home use—have long been a concern when it comes to the health effects of toxic exposure, including for heart health.

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Pesticide exposure

Occupational exposure to pesticides has been correlated with a 45 percent greater risk of heart disease, up to 10 years past the initial use of the chemical.

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Insecticide exposure

Pyrethrins and pyrethroids, commonly found in agricultural and household insecticides to kill lice and mosquitoes, have also been a topic of research in relation to heart disease. A series of animal studies demonstrated toxic effects on cardiovascular health in rats.

A 2019 correlational study into the effects of environmental exposure to pyrethroids among just over 2,000 Americans found a three-times higher associated risk for cardiovascular mortality among those with higher levels of pyrethroid exposure. Although this study does not demonstrate cause and effect, it <does> spark more need for investigation.

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Heavy metals and heart health

Long-term exposure to heavy metals, including lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic have long been associated with harm. Recent studies have exposed a link between heavy metal exposure and metabolic syndrome (which can lead to heart disease, diabetes, or stroke), although research is still evolving.

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Microplastics and heart health

Plastic is ubiquitous in our world, and their miniscule byproducts—plastic particles less than 5 mm in size—are present in everything from food, water, and air to personal care products and even plants. Microplastics can be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed, and groundbreaking research has recently identified microplastics in the human bloodstream.

Because microplastics come from a huge variety of different plastic products, they can carry harmful toxins that were used in the creation of the plastic product from which it originated. Bisphenol A (BPA) plastics, for example, are linked to cardiovascular disease, specifically elements such as cobalt, chromium, and barium.

Most plastics are used to make packaging

Of all plastic produced, more than 40 percent is for packaging. Studies show that when we use plastic food packaging, it can release micro- and nanoplastics into the food and beverages that we consume.

How do our daily routines affect heart health?

Sleep and sunshine are the magic words when it comes to maintaining and protecting cardiovascular health. Both lack of sleep and low levels of vitamin D are linked to an increased risk for coronary heart disease.

If you struggle to get enough rest and outdoor time, consider consulting your doctor or naturopath about supplementing with melatonin and/or vitamin D.

Quick tips

There are many ways to cut down your contribution and exposure to environmental pollutants.

  • Choose natural fabrics over synthetics, and use a dryer filter to reduce the release of microplastics when doing laundry.
  • Opt for glass food storage containers or reusable wax wraps over plastic.
  • Avoid personal care products that contain microbeads; look for polyethylene and polypropylene in the ingredients list.
  • Fill your home with indoor plants known for their air filtration properties.
  • Support sustainable companies with excellent environmental leadership such as Veritree and tentree, both of which have tree-planting initiatives in place.

Who’s most at risk?

Older adults, children, outdoor workers, and those with pre-existing health conditions are more likely to be affected by climate change-related air quality.

How do ozone levels affect cardiovascular health?

There are two types of ozone. Stratospheric ozone, also called “good ozone,” protects us from the sun’s intense rays. Tropospheric or ground-level ozone, known as “bad ozone,” is created by sunlight interacting with volatile hydrocarbons (such as benzene, ethylene glycol, and formaldehyde) and oxides of nitrogen, as well as greenhouse gas emissions.

Although the negative effects of “bad” ozone to lung health are well known, new research has found that both short- and long-term exposure to ozone were associated with oxidative damage to cells and increases in platelet activation (which causes potentially deadly thrombosis, or blood clots) and blood pressure.

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